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The ‘Closed-Loop Ecosystem’ This Brewery Created for its Barrel Program

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By Jon Sicotte on September 27, 2022

Read the full article from The Brewer Magazine here

Leveraging its strengths, Five & 20 has started to lean even more heavily into its barrel program. The sister company to veteran winery Mazza Vineyards, Five & 20 is both a brewery and distillery and Joe Nelson says making sure to take advantage of what the wood has to offer for all of its lines has become important.

“We have full control over everything,” he told Brewer recently. “We’re not getting barrels that have been sitting in somebody’s warehouse drying out for six months before we get them. A lot of times they’re emptied, either the day we filled them, or maybe the day before. So we’re getting full flavor impact from wine, spirits, barrels … whatever.

“Now we’ve even brought that full circle to where we’re taking the spirits barrels, putting in the beer, and then releasing that beer. When that beer comes out of the barrels, we put the spirits back in. It’s like this awesome closed-loop ecosystem that we just keep cycling stuff around and we just build on those flavors. That’s been the best part — for me and the crew — is being able to have this full palette of flavors that we can play around with and techniques. It’s the perfect storm of possibilities.”

Although staying pat in its core lineup of beers — including its Grape Lakes Wheat, a Pale Ale, and a Rye Pale Ale — the barrel-aged brands help drive a continuance of area consumers.

READ MORE: Next-Level Barrel-Aging Tips

“The draft lines, we have to have new stuff,” Nelson said. “If it’s always the same thing, people get bored very quickly. You always want to know what’s new. So, on our side, you’re always going to want to have something new.”

Being a contract facility for spirits as well helps bring in barrels that aren’t standard for most breweries looking to barrel-age in.

“That’s helped immensely too because they’ve opened up a whole new spectrum of barrels that we never would have had knowledge of,” Nelson said. “When you sit somebody down, and say, ‘Okay, we’re gonna taste rums today.’ And they’re like, ‘I don’t really like rum.’ I’m like, all rum? Everything in the world? If you haven’t had that exposure you wouldn’t even know that there’s that immense spectrum of flavors.”

Nelson — using rum as an example — said there is a wide palette of flavors that Five & 20 can play around with because the same beer put in like a Jamaican two-year-old aged barrel, compared to a Jamaican 15-year-old barrel is going to come out completely different.

“Because the rums in there are completely different,” he said. “So the additive effect is really intense. And until you experience it — until you actually sit down and you go through the different styles from the different countries and from even the same country, but a different distillery, and then the ages on top of it, it just creates this awesome blending opportunity.”

One of the unique creations Nelson said they are working on is barrel-aging its first Dark Lager by putting it in rum barrels.”

“We have a lot of plans,” he said. “We shifted our focus for a while. We were really honed in on the core beers and trying to get that scale up a little bit. Now we’re shifting back to a bit more like the smaller niche stuff and getting back to a bit of core competency.”